A Dawn Like Thunder By Robert J. Mrazek

The True Story of Torpedo Squadron Eight

This is an excellent look at a pivotal period from an unusual perspective. I’ve read several unit histories. Often they are a bit dull, except presumably to those with a close connection to the unit.  But this book really stands out for several reasons.  First is just that the squadron’s period of activity is so key to the history of the Pacific War. Torpedo Eight was operational from late 1941 to late 1942, but more to the point the unit saw action at the Battle of Midway and in the Guadalcanal campaign.
The book further stands out for telling the story at a very human level while weaving anecdotes and reminiscences into the greater historic narrative.  So we get a nice balance of exciting, tragic and funny combined with why these things mattered. It is an extremely effective way of writing such a history.

I admit to being a bit cautious about this book at the start, Torpedo Eight’s part in the Battle of Midway is an American tragedy. Out of 21 sorties (15 TBDs from Hornet and 6 TBFs from Midway) only one aircraft and three men survived. So the personal stories at the start all came with a sense of dread, nearly every one of those first characters gave their lives in that battle.  But those stories are all well told, even if mostly tragic.  And so much of the well known Midway story is filled in with details of interest to a Torpedo Eight centered perspective.  Including the three crews left behind on Hornet and the detachment in Hawaii I had known nothing about.
Those who have read more recent accounts of the Battle of Midway are likely aware there is some controversy over the exact route flown by Hornet’s air group and a possible cover-up involving Stanhope Ring and Marc Mitscher. That is explored some here, and in greater detail in the appendix. The author concludes Ring essentially took the blame for Mitscher’s bad decision and really comes down hard on both men.
A final interesting item from this section, that I previously knew nothing about, is that the Hawaii detachment of the squadron flew their TBFs out to Hornet on its way back from Midway. So the plane the squadron had eagerly hoped to have for battle was on board when the ship returned to harbor; creating an unusual situation of a squadron being wiped out in battle, yet being on board at strength, with newer equipment when returning home.

The larger part of the book involves the squadron’s activities in the Guadalcanal campaign. They flew off Saratoga during the initial invasion of the island and participated in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons where they were involved in sinking the Ryūjō. After Saratoga was damaged they transferred to Espiritu Santo and began feeding detachments up to Guadalcanal as a major part of the “Cactus Air Force.”  This added a level of physical hardship squadron personnel had previously avoided, and the book captures well the exhausting, grinding aspect of the campaign.
Several strong personalities emerge over the course of this story.  The original commander, John Waldron is well known and it was interesting to see his impact even after his death at Midway.  His second in command, and squadron commander through the second part of the book was Swede Larson who was a much less loved character.  I think I’ve never heard of such an officer who had two separate attempts on his life from squadron members!
The rest of the squadron is brought to life in appealing (and some times not so appealing)  detail.

On balance this is an excellent book both as a history and on a more human level. It is maybe not the best introduction for readers who are otherwise unfamiliar with this story. A more general narrative history as introduction might be preferable; but this book does a good job with overview so perhaps it is not actually required.

~ Dave

Note: as mentioned previously, my model shop has been down for a remodel these last few months.  I expect I’ll be back working in another month, and my first completed model should follow a couple weeks after. I just want to assure readers I have forgotten neither my hobbies nor this web site!  More to come…

Posted in Book Reviews, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 12 Comments

Kawanishi N1K2-J “George”

The Japanese aircraft industry produced some excellent high performance fighters towards the end of the war. The N1K was generally considered the very best among the naval types.


Join me for a look at fighter that Allied pilots were thankful never appeared en masse. Continue reading

Posted in Fighter, Japan | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

Battle of Surigao Strait by Anthony Tully

Talk about an unexpected treasure, I think this book has been sitting in my “to read” pile for five years.  I do have a large pile, and I regularly buy books that look like they might be interesting and just get to them when I get to them.  But I think I had failed to notice when I picked this up that the author is part of the “Parshall and Tully” who wrote Shattered Sword.  It might have moved higher up the pile if I’d noticed this!  It also might have languished because I’ve read a number of excellent books over the years about the larger Battle of Leyte Gulf, of which the Battle of Surigao Strait is just one of the four actions that make up that major epic. Continue reading

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Darkest Hour

Or Dunkirk Part II

I’m still resisting the idea movie reviews will ever be a regular feature of this site, but after watching this December’s Darkest Hour I did feel something needed to be said.  Especially since I commented on Dunkirk this last summer.

This movie is focused almost entirely on Winston Churchill’s first month as Prime Minister, which means it mostly covers the same ground as Dunkirk.  Obviously the focus is very different, apart from a few very brief cut-scenes there are no actual combat sequences this time. Given what a nit-picker I am about hardware issues that may be a good thing…   although I should mention when Churchill flies to meet meet French leadership immediately after taking office he is shown in a Dakota; without checking references I’ll say I think it should have been a Dragon Rapide or something else older, smaller, more British.  Talk about nit-picking!

But this is really a character driven drama.  Even more than Dunkirk a better parallel might be The King’s Speech.  The portrayals here are fascinating and very well done.  This Churchill (Gary Oldman, almost unrecognizable in significant make-up) is easy to like and admire. The other main movers and shakers here are Chamberlin (Ronald Pickup)  and Halifax (Stephen Dillane), who also get somewhat sympathetic treatment.  The natural wisdom being war is bad, makes it easy to relate to those who push for peace at any price. Chamberlin in particular seems clear eyed about what he wants for posterity.  Other things I’ve read are much less sympathetic towards Halifax who continues to push for peace even if it means a humiliating armistice.  Most writers seem to sum him up as pro-German; the more layered presentation here shows the appeal of his position, even if he is flat wrong in dealing with Nazis.  And that leads to the climax as Churchill has doubts if he can resist if he looses his entire army.

Another significant character in the story is King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn) whose relationship with Churchill starts strained, and quite amusing, but grows and changes more than any other in the film.
There are also two critically important female characters.  Churchill’s wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas) brings out the great man’s more human side and is the sort of completely awesome partner anyone could hope for.  The most humble and “ordinary” character in the story is Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), Churchill’s personal secretary who is new to the job at the start which means a lot of learning and narration we as the audience get in the story are channeled through her.  Although I believe the real Elizabeth Layton actually started after the events of this movie, and was an older more experienced secretary/steno than this implies.  Still, it was good device and source of entertainment throughout.

Overall this was an excellent film. I felt much less burned by technical gripes than I was in Dunkirk and would actually rate this somewhat higher partly as a result of that.  But even more because I loved the focus on characters and personalities.  Normally Dave’s rating scale involves numbers of explosions, but this is proof its possible to make a good movie based on characters and story.  Now hopefully it won’t win any awards or I may have to take all of that back!


Posted in Miscellaneous | Tagged , | 6 Comments

“Little Boy” and “Fat Man”

The two atomic bombs dropped on Japan to close World War Two have been steeped in controversy ever since.


Fat Man on the left. Little Boy, on cart, at right.

The bombs were the product of the “Manhattan Project” that started in 1942 under Major General Leslie Groves.  This was a joint project with Britain and Canada and was a further development of the British “Tube Alloys” program.  By most counts it was the third most expensive weapons system of the war, after the German V2 and American B-29. Given that the bombs were dependent on the B-29 as a delivery system this is a massive national effort.


The seeming unending “controversy” is perhaps understandable since these are, by far, the most destructive weapons ever deployed and the only atomic weapons ever used.  But I don’t think study of the time and events needs to go too deep to realize there was never a reasonable expectation they wouldn’t be used. The initial impetus for the weapons was a desire to develop them before Germany could.  But by early 1945 it was clear there was no need to use them against Germany due to a rapidly approaching defeat.
Japan however, was fighting with increasing fanaticism and desperation.  Employing suicide pilots against ships and continuing resistance past the point of no hope it was obvious a final victory would be very costly in lives.  Our signals intelligence and code breaking of the period was also extremely good; we knew in mid-1945 that there were Japanese leaders ready to sue for peace, but they were not a majority and were not making policy. (I highly recommend “Marching Orders” by Bruce Lee for a thorough look at American signals intelligence in the war, especially in the closing events).
Japan was under a complete naval and air blockade and her cities were being burned to the ground. Japanese territory was falling rapidly to allied assault.  Japanese leadership was seriously discussing their national destruction as if it was the “honorable” course of action.
American leadership was ready to accommodate them, while hoping for a less cataclysmic solution.  Enter the bomb.  At the time, most people with knowledge of the project regarded the bombs simply as really big bombs.  Understanding of radiation, fall out, and the world changing aspects of nuclear weapons were pretty limited.  We had a new weapon, and an enemy who needed a reality check; NOT using them would have been pretty unthinkable. Not to mention a betrayal of trust for the hundreds of thousands of Soldiers and Marines getting ready to invade the islands.
No doubt, in the aftermath, many have regretted ever letting that particular genie out of the bottle.  But faced with the cost of an invasion it seems likely the bombing DID save lives, both American and Japanese.


Just a little scale perspective. Fat Man was a large piece of ordnance. Not as big as a British “Grand Slam”, but big enough the B-29 was the only American bomber for the job.  Maybe some day I’ll have a B-29 to pose with it…

I do need to mention that was another element in the final Japanese decision to surrender.  The Soviet declaration of war was nearly as big a shock to Japanese leaders as the bombing. Many had apparently clung to a *unrealistic* hope that the Soviets would help negotiate some sort of compromise peace.  Those hopes were discredited concurrent with the atomic bombings.  So facing ruin and no options changed the balance of power within the Japanese government.  At least enough to say surrender vs fight to utter annihilation became a total toss up. Hirohito himself cast a tie breaking vote to end the war.


Little Boy is obviously much less massive.

The two bombs used represent very different technologies.  Little Boy was a Uranium bomb. It used a rifle type detonator that slammed one mass of Uranium 235 into another.  This was considered a simple type of weapon that wasn’t even tested prior to use. But Uranium 235 is very difficult to process and that really became a prohibitive factor in building any more such bombs.
Fat Man was a plutonium bomb. It was triggered by firing multiple masses of Plutonium into a central core.  This detonator was considerably more complicated to produce and was the reason for the world’s first atomic test at Alamogordo NM.
Much is often made of saying the Nagasaki bombing exhausted the American supply of atomic bombs. This is only partly true.  There were elements for a third bomb being prepared for transport to Tinian when Japan surrendered, and series production of Fat Man type bombs was on the immediate horizon.

The bombs shown here are from the vintage Monogram B-29 Superfortress kit.  They are extremely easy to assemble little items, greatly complicated by poor molding and fit issues.  I spent far more time filling and sanding, filling and sanding, and filling and sanding again than I did with “assembly”!  And in the end, its still obvious I’m no “master builder”.

I have mentioned before that I am getting started with a basement remodel project at home that will shut down my modeling entirely for a few months. I’m not sure if I might get something else done before that break; I hope so, but don’t bet on it!

~ Dave

Posted in Miscellaneous, USA | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Programming Note

No doubt things have been slow at PlaneDave this year. Obviously I have no one to blame but myself.  The Dave-cave is a total disaster just now as we get ready for a big basement remodel this winter.  Since that includes the model shop, actually more than includes, a model shop makeover is high on the agenda; but it will be slow going, or no going, for some months yet. I do still squeeze a few minutes of modeling in on most weekends, but I expect little to actually get done for a while.
Readers may have noticed the B-29 at the top of my workbench pile.  Those familiar with the vintage Monogram kit may not be surprised when I say I may have one short little feature of a completed add-in before the shop shuts down completely for a bit.

Now I have a question for my readers.  Testors has discontinued the biggest part of the paint line I’ve used for many years.  Basically, my entire life I’ve used Testors enamel paints.  But its time for a change due to their corporate decision.  So the first part of the question is, is there a brand that uses the same base and can be mixed with Testor’s?  This would be by far the least traumatic fix for me!  If, as I expect, the answer is no, what is a good substitute?  I have some experience with Tamiya paints and use some of their special colors (clear colors, especially smoke, and metallics), so that might be the next easiest option.  But their color choices always seemed overly generic to me and I’m not sure if the range is broad enough for all the many variations of greens and browns I use!  Yes I’ve heard of custom mixing…
But anyway, what do you readers use?  What are its limitations and strengths?  What do you wish you used?
I look forward to feedback!

~ Dave 

Posted in Administrative | 6 Comments

A Day at Fort Mackinac

Another of my slightly off topic posts. But as I’ve said since way back, I love military history in general, so this seem’s good to me!

These days Mackinac Island is best known as tourist destination.  Grand Hotel, fudge and state highways with no motor vehicles allowed are what mostly come to mind.


A view of Fort Mackinac from Marquette Park. Commonly thought of as the front side.

The Mackinac Straits area of Michigan actually traces a colonial history back to the very beginning of that era.  French fur traders and trappers frequented the area which led to an outpost, a Jesuit Mission and a French fort at modern day Mackinaw City known as Fort  Michilimackinac. After the French and Indian War (AKA the Seven Years War) ended in 1763 all French territorial claims in the north (modern day Canada and northern US) were ceded to Great Britain, so Fort Michilimackinac became a British possession.


Reenactors demonstrate breech loading 1878 Springfield Rifles in Fort Mackinac’s parade ground.

Until the American Revolution.  During that war, the British decided the location was too vulnerable and moved the fort out to nearby Mackinac Island. Known as Fort Mackinac since, it is one of the first visible landmarks when approaching the island. The transfer was completed in 1781, just in time for it to be given over to the new United States after the war in 1783.

The only real combat related to the fort came during the War of 1812, and serves mainly to highlight British professionalism and American, well, not professionalism…


A view from the fort wall overlooking Mackinac Island village.

The British landed well behind the fort and seized high ground that overlooked both the fort and village below it.  They threatened to shell the village, and the Americans promptly surrendered. In 1814 an American expedition landed on the island and attempted to replicate the British feat; but the British knew that trick and routed the force before it posed any threat. Two ships were left to besiege the island, but when British forces got low on supplies they captured the American ships to break the siege. With the end of the war in 1815, the British again turned the fort over to American forces.


A view from the Fort’s west wall. The Grand Hotel is visible with the green roof to the right. Mackinac Bridge can be see in the center distance. This connects Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas. At the left most edge of the bridge, that is the northern tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula, is the reconstruction on its original site of Fort Michilimackinac.

In the years that followed, the military threat to the area rapidly diminished and business transitioned from fur trade to tourism.  During the American Civil War the fort was used as a VIP prison, for three people.  Which sort of puts an exclamation point on how the post had become a resort. In 1875 Mackinac Island became the second US National Park. Which meant the soldiers at the fort were pretty much Park Rangers before that particular service had even been established.  In 1895 the fort was finally decommissioned and the entire island was turned over to the state of Michigan as a State Park.  In the 1950s the State of Michigan got serious about restoring its landmarks and both Fort Mackinac and Fort Michilimackinac came into being in their current form.  That is, fully restored living history exhibits.


Looking across a corner of the Fort to the Straits of Mackinac.

A trip to Mackinac is not only beautiful and fun, but it is rich in colonial and early American history.  The fort is, to me, the crown jewel of that experience.  But there is so much to see and learn in this area. I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Posted in Museums | Tagged | 14 Comments